UPDATE (August 2014, 3 years since I published this article): I hate to brag, but I told you so…
There’s been a story going around the media about Orewa college adding laptops to its compulsory stationary list. Furthermore, Orewa college has recommended the iPad as the best ‘laptop’ to use for this purpose, due to its ‘ease of use and long battery life.’ Apart from journalists managing to confuse the two previous statements to invent the headline ‘Orewa college requires iPad on stationary list’, my main gripe is with the specific recommendation of an iPad.
In order to recommend a device, you have to keep in mind what the purpose of the device is. With the points mentioned below in mind, I would love to see the recommendation of an iPad defended in the context of a normal school day.
What’s wrong with the iPad?
For the sake of argument, I’m going to weigh up the Apple iPad ($779) against the Asus Eee PC 1005P ($536).
It’s expensive. With well over $200 separating the two, the iPad has to have some meaningful advantage over the Eee PC to be a sensible recommendation. Those on a tighter budget could go for a Acer Aspire One D255E ($375), which is just as capable as the other two as far as schoolwork is concerned, although it does represent a compromise in terms of battery life.
It’s optimised for anything but schoolwork. Let’s compare the two in the context of some common subjects:
History — Laptop use would presumably be focussed on accessing web references to research and bolster arguments. No particular advantages either way, just about any device these days can display a webpage.
English — Research is no different as above, but when it comes to writing essays, the Eee PC has an actual keyboard, whereas the iPad would fall back on a touch-screen keyboard which is much slower and fatigue-inducing to use. Eee PC wins.
Maths — Pop OpenOffice spreadsheet or GNU Octave (both free software) on the Eee PC and you’re drawing graphs, playing with linear algebra, whatever you like. iPad’s calculator is inferior to a standard calculator that has been in maths class for the past many years. Eee PC wins by a wide margin.
IT — Software development on an iPad? Apple put up perplexing barriers to software development on their devices, completely barring free experimentation with programming, and knocking out any nascent software engineers before they can even start. Eee PC wins.
Workshop/electronics/graphic design — Apple iPad? Just ridiculous; unheard of. Windows/Apple PC? Yes; fantastic, free, open source software all over the internet. Eee PC is the only solution worth even considering.
Wasting time posting facebook updates — Apple iPad is definitely quicker for this one.
In short, the social-network-centric nature of the iPad versus the maturity and popularity of Linux/Windows means that the iPad is just useless for freely exploring the possibilities of computing, programming, mathematics, electronics, graphic design, engineering, etc. Considering that an iPad might replace a desktop PC in the home due to some family’s tight budgets, this seems completely ridiculous.
The iPad is a luxury toy for people who already own a proper computer, and want a fashion item to show off to their friends.
What’s wrong with Orewa college’s purported reasons for recommending the iPad?
According to the story, Orewa college has recommend the iPad due to its “ease of use and long battery life.” Other advantages claimed by Orewa college (at this link) are also covered below.
Ease of use? — The Apple iPad is so easy to use because, as mentioned above, it doesn’t really do anything other than take mediocre photos, display web pages, and a bunch of random games and web services. It’s only hard to get anything wrong on the iPad because you can’t get anything remotely useful done at all.
Battery life? — The Eee PC boasts a battery life of 11 hours, longer than any school day for sure.
No viruses — Anyone who knows anything about computer security knows that this is like saying a ship is unsinkable – extremely ignorant. Also, it’s wrong.
“Abundance of apps!!!!” — There’s a great abundance of “apps” for PCs too…
“Voice recording apps useful!!!” — I can’t believe someone actually wrote this; Windows comes with a sound recorder built in. If you want some fancy program that automatically organises the recordings or whatever, there is going to be some open source software out there to do this for you. The idea that Apple apps are some amazing new idea is astonishing. Yes, it’s new for phones. But PCs have supported software written by anyone since they were introduced in the 1970s.
“Useful for all the family” — This looks like it is just copied-and-pasted marketing gibberish straight from Apple.
What I find so amazing about Orewa college’s list of advantages of the iPad is that it all looks very convincing and exciting, until you analyse the contrapositives – i.e., what they’re implying about PC laptops:
“PC laptops don’t have battery lives of 10 hours.” Wrong, some do.
“PC laptops don’t have cameras built-in.” Wrong, most do.
“PC laptops don’t have auto-update of system software.” Um, yes they do, it’s called Windows Update.
“PC laptops are not useful for all the family.” This one deserves some elaboration to say the least.
“PC laptops don’t have an abundance of freely available apps.” This is just idiotic, as pointed out above.
“PC laptops can’t record voice.” What, is the microphone just for decoration???
Thanks for reading. Do you think I’m being too harsh on the iPad? Let me know in the comments below!